Under The Big Top

I read a story in the paper recently that said Dennis Rodman, a creature from the last century, had signed with the Tijuana Dragons of the American Basketball Association. The ABA is a minor, minor basketball league that has, at last count, 46 teams. Normal pay for their athletes is $600 to $800 per week.

Then, a few days later, I saw a story about how Rodman and the Tijuana Dragons traveled north to play the San Francisco Pilots. Rodman was scheduled to do a book-signing before the game. Nine people showed up. Rodman didn't. He was late for the game, officials delayed its start 20 minutes. And he was late for the second half on account of doing a TV interview off-court.

Okay, Dennis Rodman is one more has-been on the Freak Show Circuit. One more once-famous person who will do anything, anything, to remain in the public eye and continue to rake in easy money. And make no mistake, dyeing your hair purple, piercing nose and ear and belly, wearing white, floor-length wedding dresses with full-on, trailer-court-whore makeup slopped over your face, in order to entice the odd passerby into giving you his money, may be humiliating for the 12 hours you've dressed in drag, but the money you take home that night is a hell of a lot more than you'll make in a year's time stocking produce at the local Vons.

By the way, this is not new. Orson Welles, who, it is generally agreed, wrote, directed, and starred in the greatest American movie ever made, Citizen Kane, wound up hawking cheap wine and dog food on television. He once told a friend, "I have an early call tomorrow. For a commercial. Dog food, I think, this time. No, I do not eat from the can on camera, but I celebrate its contents."

I was expecting the same out of Rodman. But, after a bit of research, I'm prepared to admit I've underestimated the cross-dressing egomaniac. Turns out, he's been on the Freak Show Circuit for some time, and, it appears, he plays it, rather than the other way around.

According to Internet Movie Database, Rodman has been in or is scheduled to be in, nine movies as an actor, including two blockbusters, Stripper's Ball and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. He has been in 14 films as himself, highlighted by this year's boffo hit, Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson. The site lists 56 notable television appearances including, Celebrity Blackjack, Celebrity Poker Showdown, and Hyppönen Enbuske Experience. We laugh, we gag, we may upchuck. In the meantime, Rodman cashes enormous paychecks.

Rodman worked a few bouts for World Championship Wrestling in the late '90s. His best moment occurred when he hooked up with Hulk Hogan for a double-team match against Karl Malone and Diamond Dallas Page. He and the Hulkster won, perhaps unfairly. Press reports claimed Rodman was drunk during the contest.

Rodman was able to get on the Freak Show Circuit because he was the best rebounder in professional basketball for a long, long time...seven consecutive years, as a matter of fact. And he also had the luck to play on five championship teams; twice with Detroit and three times with Chicago. Still, who cares who the best rebounder was back in the last century? Rodman has been five years gone from the NBA. How do you keep fame when you can no longer do the thing that made you famous?

Rodman hit upon a beautiful solution: play minor, minor league basketball -- no way you can get shown up there -- and play very few games so you can maintain the fiction that you're not a part of it, you're the guest star. The movies, TV, books, and appearance fees are still shake from the world of basketball. Wedding dresses and makeup are nice, but they won't keep you on the Freak Show Circuit.

Rodman played for another ABA team, Long Beach Jam, in 2003. As mentioned, he's playing for the Tijuana Dragons this year, but only six to ten games. He's signed for two games in 2006 with the Cedar Valley Jaguars (Waterloo, Iowa), of the International Basketball League. He has played a few minutes in two games for Fuerza Regia of the Mexican Basketball League. And, last summer, he played for Torpan Pojat, a Finnish premier league basketball team, for one game -- or, more precisely, 28 minutes of one game. Newspapers report he was paid EUR 50,000 ($58,883) for his 1680 seconds.

Which seems to be his rate, and more power to him. Rodman's made big money off his bullshit and stayed out of jail while he was at it. The question is, how long can he last?

The Tijuana Dragons, and maybe Dennis Rodman, will host the Los Angeles Aftershock, 7 p.m. on December 8 at Auditorio Municipal on Blvd Agua Caliente in Tijuana. Telephone 801-891-7255 for particulars.

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